Artist: Jimbo Mathus
Album: Band Of Storms
Label: Big Legal Mess Records
Release Date: 05/06/2016
Jimbo Mathus is probably best known for his work with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the retro swing band who became a sensation in the 1990s, disbanded and recently reunited. But Jimbo has always had his own thing going on, and has an intriguing life story that sheds light on his creative panache.
Born in Oxford, Mississippi, he grew up in a musical household, and became proficient in mandolin by age eight. Later he went on to learn guitar, piano and harmony singing. Jimbo studied philosophy for a while at the University of Mississippi, joined the Merchant Marine as a deckhand and tankerman for the Canal Barge Company on the Mississippi, Illinois and Tennessee Rivers, and later moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to study music full time. In the libraries of UNC Chapel Hill, Mathus learned Latin, studied theater, poetry, First Peoples culture, literature and medieval alchemy, as well as music. It was also there that he met and married Katherine Whalen, with whom he formed the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The group has performed on A Prairie Home Companion, at the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, on The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. They have been awarded gold and platinum records.
Jimbo has recorded and toured with Buddy Guy, and went on to establish Delta Recording Service in the abandoned Alcazar Hotel in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi where he has produced hundreds of artists including Elvis Costello. When not performing with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jimbo pursues painting and a different kind of musical mojo. His latest release, Band of Storms, features his own cover art and nine magical tunes performed with refreshingly ragged swagger.
“Gringo Man” is good time garage soul with a Muscle Shoalsy horn section and gritty, Stonesy riffs. Jimbo wails, “It’s cool! It’s alright. Well we’re gonna rock and roll tonight!”
Mathus let’s it all hang out with “Can’t Get Much Higher,” a loose New Orleans jam that would make Professor Longhair proud. “And them women going crazy, every day of the night. Woah!” Laissez les bons temps rouler indeed!
A country shuffle begins “Let’s Play With Fire,” which shows thoughtful chord structures balanced with raw, throaty vocals. The wild side of Jimbo is never far away.
Languid pedal steel drenched in reverb, acoustic guitars and violins create a yearning tone on “Stop Your Crying.” Simple, sincere lyrics state, “Well I saw an eagle flying, on the hill where my true love lies. Shed a tear from a blood stained eye.”
On “Massive Confusion,” Jimbo almost sounds like the southern heir to Joe Strummer and Paul Westerberg and really lets loose with some phlegmy “Ows!” The effect is as if you’ve discovered a long lost garage rock classic on an old jukebox.
With honky-tonk piano, Keith Richards-eque backing vocals, and more pedal steel guitars, Jimbo keeps things loose on the anthemic “Wayward Wind.” Imagine Tom Waits sitting in with Gram Parson and the Byrds. If it sounds incongruous, it is; but it works.
Bluesy slide guitar and boozy beats begin “Slow Down Sun,” as Jimbo sings with the worn and weathered voice of an elder bluesman. “Keep It Together” is gentle, psychedelic country in the vein of Buffalo Springfield with heartfelt sentiment.
“We’re at the end of all time; we’re at the end of all music. Everyday I tell myself, let’s keep it together. So I’m a gonna use my heart. I’m a gonna use my soul. In any way great or small; yeah, I’m gonna use it.”
The record closes with a wild mandolin number called “Catahoula” that illustrates the connection between British folk and bluegrass with more merry yelps.
Band Of Storms is an delightful ramble through the shambolic brilliance of Jimbo’s mind. Throw away your road map and enjoy getting lost in these country-fried backwaters.